Disney scraps $1 billion plan to relocate Imagineering from California to Florida

Disney is dropping plans to relocate the Imagineering creative arm of the company from Southern California to the Orlando area as an escalating feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the entertainment giant heats up.

Disney theme park chief Josh D’Amaro announced in an email to employees that “leadership changes” and “changing business conditions” prompted Disney to scrap a plan to build a nearly $1 billion campus in Lake Nona about 20 miles from Walt Disney World.

“Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the campus,” D’Amaro wrote. “This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one.”

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Under former CEO Bob Chapek, Disney announced an unpopular plan in 2021 to relocate 2,000 employees to the Lake Nona campus, including most of Glendale-based Walt Disney Imagineering that designs theme park attractions.

Hundreds of Imagineers have already relocated to Florida and will be given the option to return to Southern California, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back,” D’Amaro wrote.

The battle between Disney and DeSantis began in March 2022 when Chapek criticized Florida legislation that would prohibit primary school classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity.

DeSantis retaliated against “Woke Disney” by stripping the company of self-governing power over Disney World. The continuing back-and-forth has resulted in dueling legal challenges.

Iger, who replaced the fired Chapek, pointed out in a quarterly earnings call a week ago that Disney employs 75,000 people in Florida, attracts millions of tourists annually to the state and has plans to invest $17 billion in Disney World over the next decade.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?” Iger asked on the call.

The nearly $1 billion Lake Nona office complex scheduled for construction would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region with an average salary of $120,000, according to the New York Times.

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“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” D’Amaro wrote. “We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we’re able to do so.”

Disney stood to receive $580 million in tax credits over the next two decades by relocating employees from Southern California to Florida, according to the New York Times.

The cancellation of the Lake Nona project comes amid Disney’s plans to slash 7,000 jobs and cut costs by $5.5 billion.

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